"Night Lights Yield Extra Hours to Enjoy Gardens"

By Ruth Palombo

The world is never more glorious than in the spring when it bursts forth with a profusion of colors. Then in summertime when the sun doesn't set until almost 9 p.m. people spend even longer sitting outdoors next to their pool, spa, or on their deck or screened porch listening to the crickets and watching the fireflies twinkle in the night sky.

"Night lighting gives the homeowner a chance to enjoy their garden long after dark," says Constantine Pergantis, owner of Nite Lites, a lighting design, consulting and installation firm.

"If someone goes to all the expense of hiring professional landscapers, or putting in a pool or spa, then often it doesn't occur to them that when it goes dark they won't see all that beauty."

Pergantis is often called in after the owner makes one of two predictable attempts on his own. "The owner will either put in a couple of flood lights which blast down onto the yard making it look like a baseball field, or they will get a $49 kit at Hechinger's which is limited by the quality of the basic materials," he says.

The lights Pergantis uses are of the low voltage variety. "The biggest attraction to low voltage lighting is in its flexibility," he says.

"The owner won't get stuck having a fixed lighting situation. If a bush grows up around the light, hiding its effect, then it is very easy to move the light. If you landscape another area of the garden, you can easily add fixtures to this system, providing the transformer can handle it. And of course you can always easily add another transformer.

The transformer is a small black box which can be installed either above or below ground and to which all of the low voltage fixtures are wired.

An additional advantage to the low voltage system is its safety. "There isn't a shock hazard with this system," says Pergantis. "Line voltage systems must be sunk between 12 and 24 inches below ground. You can run this low voltage system right under the mulch without fear.

"In addition, it allows you to run adjacent to pools or spas. You can't do that with line voltage. You have to place any fixture in that system 7 feet away from water," he continues.

In one back yard in Copenhaver complete with a pool, waterfall, spa and beautiful specimen plants which was designed by Tim Rowan, Pergantis installed a low voltage fixture into a small planted island set within inches of the pool and surrounded by the aggregate pool deck.

It is also important to use fixtures which are non-ferrous and which therefore won't rust. Pergantis uses aluminum fixtures which come in a wide range of finishes from verdi-gris green to brass to bronze to black or white.

Some of the effects which are possible with night lighting are: illuminating specific trees from the ground up, which is called "up-lighting", silhouetting trees against the wall by lighting the wall or fence not the tree or shrub, "cross-lighting" which involves two spots which crisscross the light sources on very large trees where more than one fixture is needed and down or "moon-lighting."

"The owner must remember that when he chooses downlighting then he needs to have someone go into those trees and change the light bulbs," smiles Pergantis.

Another effect is achieved by putting fixtures under bench seating pointing down, so when they are lit the bench itself appears to be floating above the deck.

It is the revolutionary nature of Halogen lamps which have rejuvenated the outdoor lighting possibilities. "You don't need a big fixture if your light bulb is the size of your finger. Halogen lamps are very efficient. They are normally 3 to 4 times brighter per watt than their line voltage equivalent," he says. "They are smaller, more efficient and they last longer."

Pergantis recommends thinking about outdoor lighting before the pool or landscaping job is completed. "If you make provisions for receptacles in the yard, it is easier for me to hook up to them. It is also important to install conduit sleeves under any sidewalk, decks and planting areas so those areas don't become land locked and a cable can travel from area to area within the garden. It is also a good time to think about inside control devices such as timers, photocells and remote controls," he says.

On the horizon, Pergantis says that fiber optics will be the next big thing. "They are now perfecting the systems and getting the costs down to home owner affordability," he says.

10636 Chisholm Landing Terrace, North Potomac, MD 20878-4263
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